A Snapshot of Software Engineering Salaries at Silicon Valley Startups

A laptop with a screen and keyboard with a texture formed from U.S. dollar bills, to symbolize software engineer salaries
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Software engineering salaries at Bay Area startups were up in 2014, for an average senior engineer with Java experience. The big job growth was in San Francisco. And while knowing C/C++  and Java gives you a little boost, it’s having experience working with Hadoop that really gives you an edge.

That’s all according to a recent analysis by recruitment firm Riviera Partners. Although the firm was using its own limited data set of 500 engineers who took jobs at venture-backed startups in 2014, Riviera believes its numbers are representative of the bigger picture. (The analysis did not include data on stock options or other equity grants that may have been made to hires.) Here are some of the numbers for senior engineers; lead engineers and managers make a little more, mid-level engineers a little less. The engineers in the study had an average of eight years of experience.

The language differential. For engineers who haven’t yet moved into management, according to the Riviera Partners’ study, C/C++ and Java developers pulled in an average of $143,000 annually, with Python developers slightly behind at $141,000. (Spectrum’s most recent ranking of popular programming languages puts Java on top.) For engineers with some experience in working with distributed-computing framework Hadoop, however, the average salary jumps to $150,000. These numbers are all up from 2013, when Riviera found that senior engineers specializing in Java averaged $135,000 and C/C++ $119,000; Hadoop experience wasn’t analyzed at that time.

The picture changes somewhat when engineers move into management. In 2014, managers of C/C++ teams had the edge, at $161,000, followed by Python at $159,000, Hadoop at $152,000, and Java at $151,000.

Where the jobs are.  San Francisco came out on top here, with 62 percent of new hires crowding into San Francisco’s 47 square miles. Twenty-nine percent landed on the Peninsula, generally defined as the area south of San Francisco extending as far south as Mountain View. And just nine percent ended up in the South Bay, an area that tends to be more of a hotspot for hardware folks rather than software specialists. (Silicon Valley author and historian Mike Malone recently said, “They code stuff up there, we build stuff down here.”)

School spirit. Where did these recent hires get their education? Not surprisingly, the biggest group came out of the University of California at Berkeley, which is well connected in the Bay Area tech network. (Many, of course, also came from Stanford, tied with UCLA and Cornell for the number three spot.) Number two—the University of Waterloo—came in as a surprise for me, but it shouldn’t have; Waterloo is reportedly the largest feeder school to Silicon Valley and I’ve met a number of Canadian entrepreneurs launching through local incubators, like YCombinator.  Interestingly, Waterloo wasn’t in the top five in the Riviera study last year, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology came in at number three and Tsinghua University at number four.

So the net-net if you want a job at a Silicon Valley startup? Go to Berkeley or the University of Waterloo, learn Hadoop, and find an apartment in San Francisco. That last to-do just might turn out to be the hardest to check off.


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Tekla Perry
Palo Alto, Calif.